Recently, I wrote an article about my first listen to the legendary Operation Ivy album, Energy. The idea was sparked by a conversation with two punk/ska enthusiasts who are very close friends of mine, and are unknowingly responsible for keeping me up to date (as well as catching me up, apparently) on all things punk and ska. Naturally, I shared the article with them as soon as it was published. Though the write up was appreciated, my good pal Brian did say (after some positive affirmation, because he’s a good dude): “Yet I will take issue with a very minor point…ska has lasted and continues in its sub culture of underground…yet mainstream in its own way.”
The comment caused me to consider what I had written, and so I re-read the piece. With fresh eyes I was shocked to realize that, yes, I unwittingly declared ska “dead,” or at least past its time; though my haphazard words were totally unintentional.
So, I felt the need to write this followup piece to declare with gusto that SKA IS NOT DEAD! And just to prove my point, I will list several active ska bands that still tour and/or record new music, starting with my favorite band of nearly two decades, Five Iron Frenzy.
- Five Iron Frenzy: Released a brand new album early on in 2021, funded by fans through Kickstarter. It was overfunded in fact, by nearly 5x the asking amount, which has been a trend for FIF since they got back together in 2011 after an eight year hiatus. At the time, they famously launched a Kickstarter to record Engine of a Million Plots, asking for a mere $30,000, which they raised in less than an hour, ultimately ending up with over $200,000! Five Iron still plays a handful of shows every year, afterwards one of which I actually got to speak with band member Leanor “Jeff the Girl” Ortega. I asked her why they still keep playing, and she told me that it’s because they really like hanging out together, and playing music allows that to happen. Isn’t that nice? No wonder they’re still a band.
- Less Than Jake: Ever since I heard Hello Rockview back in 1999, I’ve been a big fan of Less Than Jake, mostly for their thoughtful and introspective lyrics. (I actually wrote a novel inspired by that album…here’s to fan fiction!) They released Silver Linings at the end of 2020, their first studio album in seven years, and as far as I can tell, they’ve never stopped touring (pandemic aside). I can also say first hand that they put on an amazing show, and are well worth checking out for a raucous good time.
- The Interrupters: Los Angeles-based The Interrupters also released a fairly new album (2018), and have loads of tour dates listed worldwide through 2022. What is unique about this band is they didn’t even form until 2011, which is unusual considering most of the ska bands out there have been around for 20+ years. They also have a female lead singer, à la ska(ish) legends No Doubt and Save Ferris.
- Reel Big Fish: Even if you don’t like ska (why are you reading this article?), you’ve probably heard “Sell Out” by Reel Big Fish. They’ve released many albums, seemingly building a career out of fun music and ironic lyrics that either make your chuckle or think. I was lucky enough to see them play at the pre-pandemic Back to the Beach Festival in Huntington Beach, CA, along with an incredible list of other ska bands, including…
- Goldfinger: Not always a ska band, though their most popular song, “Superman,” is very ska, and was made famous by the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game. This band is really impressive as they’ve managed to continue touring and recording, even releasing several live performance videos during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as releasing a new album at the end of 2020. They are also somewhat of a punk/ska supergroup, performing with members of MxPx, Story of the Year, and occasionally Travis Barker of Blink-182.
- The Aquabats!: Speaking of Travis Barker (an early drummer for The Aquabats!), this band is something to behold. Originally started as a joke band to ironically counteract the seriousness of the Orange County punk scene in the early 90s, the Aquabats! found their home in ska music, which often has a silly edge to it. Albums, television shows, an overly-ambitious Kickstarter campaign…it’s hard to really summarize The Aquabats! in one paragraph. If you ever get the chance to see this band, though, take it. Unabashedly ridiculous, this band could get a group of goths dancing if given the chance.
- Suburban Legends: The man who instigated this article is the one who introduced me to Suburban Legends. Since then, I’ve seen them play several times (all with him), most of which occurred at Disneyland! Known for including choreographed dance moves in their songs (the likes of which you will find fans dancing along to at shows), Suburban Legends are true performers, and can make ska music something even the grumpiest of onlookers can enjoy listening to. With a slew of lineup changes, they’ve somehow found a way to stay relevant, earning their place in the annals of skadom. Fun fact: Two of the members run a YouTube channel called Kids Imagine Nation, and also perform regularly in Southern California theme parks.
So you still think ska is dead? I don’t even have room to mention Streetlight Manifesto (one of the best horn sections out there), The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Slackers, The Skatalites (formed in 1963!), Mad Caddies, Voodoo Glow Skulls, Rancid, the list goes on. All of these bands are still touring and/or recording music, innovating yet preserving a style of music that continues to evolve in its decades-long journey to enrich the lives of us downtrodden humans as we slowly circle the solar system, living our lives just looking for something to skank to.
Oh wait…you never thought ska was dead? Oh…uh…well, this is embarrassing.
Well, did you know about this? Another good reason to like ska.
As if you needed one.